Acts 7:37-60 (NLT)
Stephen Addresses the Council
In 1777, William Dodd, a well-known London clergyman, was condemned to be hanged for forgery. When his last sermon, delivered in prison, was published, a friend commented to Samuel Johnson that the effort was far better than he had thought the man capable of. Dr. Johnson replied, “Depend upon it, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates the mind wonderfully.”
I cannot say whether Stephen sensed that he was about to be stoned to death when he delivered this message before the Sanhedrin, but his mind was wonderfully concentrated! More than just speaking well because of the threat of death, Stephen spoke powerfully because he was filled with the Holy Spirit (7:55). It is the longest sermon in Acts, and so the Holy Spirit thought it to be important enough for Luke to record it to the extent that he did.
Perhaps Luke wanted his largely Gentile audience to get a brief history of God’s dealings with Israel. The sermon also serves as a transition to the Gentile mission that follows this chapter, in that it shows Israel’s continued stubborn rejection of God’s message and messengers. It shows that God had worked in many places and ways with His servants down through the centuries, and so worship is not limited to the land of Palestine or to the temple. Like Abraham, who obediently followed the Lord, so God’s people must go where He leads.
Stephen was charged with speaking against Moses, against God, against the temple, and against the law and the customs handed down by Moses (6:11. 13, 14). While overall his message shows the charges to be false, it is more a sermon that traces God’s historical dealings with Israel, Israel’s history of rebellion against God, and a climax that indicts his hearers of the very charges that they were bringing against him. They were guilty of rejecting Moses and the law, and even worse, they had just killed the Righteous One whom God had sent for their salvation.
Thus — Stephen’s sermon points us to the sovereign, abundant grace of God toward rebellious sinners, but also to the danger of hardening our hearts against God’s grace.
–Steven J. Cole
33 “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. 34 I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt.’
35 “So God sent back the same man his people had previously rejected when they demanded, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. 36 And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.
37 “Moses himself told the people of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own people.’ 38 Moses was with our ancestors, the assembly of God’s people in the wilderness, when the angel spoke to him at Mount Sinai. And there Moses received life-giving words to pass on to us.
Exodus 32:4 — Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”
39 “BUT! our ancestors refused to listen to Moses. They rejected him and wanted to return to Egypt. 40 They told Aaron, ‘Make us some gods who can lead us, for we don’t know what has become of this Moses, who brought us out of Egypt.’ 41 So they made an idol shaped like a calf, and they sacrificed to it and celebrated over this thing they had made. 42 Then God turned away from them and abandoned them to serve the stars of heaven as their gods! In the book of the prophets it is written,
‘Was it to me you were bringing sacrifices and offerings
during those forty years in the wilderness, Israel?
43 No, you carried your pagan gods—
the shrine of Molech,
the star of your god Rephan,
and the images you made to worship them.
So I will send you into exile
as far away as Babylon.’
44 “Our ancestors carried the Tabernacle with them through the wilderness. It was constructed according to the plan God had shown to Moses. 45 Years later, when Joshua led our ancestors in battle against the nations that God drove out of this land, the Tabernacle was taken with them into their new territory. And it stayed there until the time of King David.
46 “David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who actually built it. 48 BUT! the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,
49 ‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?’
asks the Lord.
‘Could you build me such a resting place?
50 Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’
51 “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! 52 Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. 53 You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”
54 The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand.
Mark 14:61-62 (NIV)
But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
by David Wilkerson
“But he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56).
Stephen represents what a true Christian is supposed to be: one who is full of the Holy Ghost with eyes fixed on the Man in glory. He is one who mirrors that glory in such a way that all who see it will be amazed and filled with wonder. He is one with a steady gaze fixed on Christ, always looking up to him, fully occupied with a glorified Savior.
Look at the hopeless condition Stephen was in, surrounded by religious madness, superstition, prejudice, and jealousy. The angry crowd pressed in on him, wild-eyed and bloodthirsty, and death loomed just ahead of him. What impossible circumstances! But looking up into heaven, he beheld his Lord in glory, and suddenly his rejection here on earth meant nothing to him. Now he was above it all, seeing him who was invisible.
One glimpse of the Lord’s glory, one vision of his precious holiness, and Stephen could no longer be hurt. The stones and the angry cursing were all harmless to him because of the joy set before him. One glimpse of Christ’s glory places you above all your circumstances. Keeping your eyes on Christ, consciously reaching out to him every waking hour, provides peace and serenity as nothing else can.
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Stephen caught the rays of the glorified Man in heaven and reflected them to a Christ-rejecting society.
How true that we become what we behold. The proper translation should read, “We all, with open face mirroring the glory, are changed!” The idea is that the Christian reflects, like a mirror, the glory on which he gazes continually. It is we who are “in the glass”—a mirror—looking on Christ, the object of our affection and becoming like him in the process of beholding.
When the enemy comes in like a flood and troubling circumstances get us down, we need to both amaze and condemn the world around us by our sweet, restful repose in Christ. Since we see by our spiritual mind, this is accomplished by keeping our minds stayed on Christ.
56 And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”
“Stephen has been confessing Christ before men, and now he sees Christ confessing his servant before God.”
—Robert Bruce, Scottish theologian of the 17th century
57 Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him 58 and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.
8) Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.
St. Augustine said, “The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen.”
Was it here that Paul saw something which years later he articulated as — “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain”? This song is Stephen’s song: “I Am Crucified with Christ” sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean. Randy Phillips, Shawn Craig, and Dan Dean started singing together in 1991; all three are full-time pastors. HERE.
As I look back on what I thought was living
I’m amazed at the price I chose to pay
And to think I ignored what really mattered
Cause I thought the sacrifice would be too great
And when I finally reached the point of giving in
I found the cross was calling even then
And even though it took dying to survive
I’ve never felt so much alive.
For I am crucified with Christ and yet I live
Not I but Christ that lives within me
His Cross will never ask for more than I can give
For it’s not my strength but His
There’s no greater sacrifice
For I am crucified with Christ and yet I live
As I hear the Savior call for daily dying
I will bow beneath the weight of Calvary
Let my hands surrender to His piercing purpose
That holds me to the cross yet sets me free
I will glory in the power of the cross
The things I thought were gain I count as loss
And with His suffering I identify
And by His resurrection power I am alive
And I will offer all I am
So that His cross is not in vain
For I found to live is Christ
And to die is truly gain